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Middle East
Search for Lebanon crash victims
Recovery teams search for bodies and "black box" after Ethiopian jet crash.
Last Modified: 26 Jan 2010 08:53 GMT

Aircraft wreckage was washed up along the Lebanon coastline near the accident site [AFP]

International search teams have widened the operation to recover bodies and locate the wreckage of the Ethiopian Airlines jet, which crashed into the Mediterranean Sea off the Lebanese coast.

Searchers were trying to find the jet's "black box" and flight data recorder, which are crucial to determining the cause of the crash.

"The teams worked all night to find additional victims and to locate the debris," an army spokesman said on Tuesday, a day after the accident.

"They are hoping to find the 'black boxes' which contain the flight data recorder that should provide information as to the cause of the accident."

Wogayehu Tefere, an Ethiopian Airlines spokeswoman, said it was very unlikely that any of the 90 people travelling on the airliner would be found alive.

"It is very unlikely that we can still recover some survivors.

"So far 25 bodies have been recovered and, according to the first report of our team there, there are six Ethiopian bodies among them, and eight Lebanese. But it has to be confirmed," Wogayehu said.

Caught fire

The aircraft, which was bound for the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa, crashed in flames just minutes after taking off from Beirut, the Lebanese capital, early on Monday

Rescue teams and equipment have been sent from the United Nations and countries
including the US and Cyprus.

A Lebanese security official said the recovery teams would widen their search perimeter off the Naameh coast, 10km south of Beirut, after rough seas and high waves hampered them during the night.

"The [command] tower told the pilot to turn to avoid the storm, but the plane went in the opposite direction"

Elias Murr,
Lebanon Defence Minister

Mangled aircraft seats and luggage were washed up on the shore.

Lebanese officials have ruled out sabotage and said bad weather was likely to blame.

Relatives of the passengers were complaining that the jet had been allowed to take off in bad weather.

Elias Murr, the defence minister, said the pilot of the jet had failed to follow instructions on take-off from the control tower for unknown reasons.

"A command tower recording shows the tower told the pilot to turn to avoid the storm, but the plane went in the opposite direction," Murr said in a television interview on Monday.

"We do not know what happened or whether it was beyond the pilot's control."

Winter storms

In recent days, parts of Lebanon have suffered harsh wintry storms that have caused heavy flooding and damage in some parts of the country.

Chris Yates, a UK-based aviation analyst, said that modern aircraft are built to withstand all but the foulest weather conditions.

"One wouldn't have thought that a nasty squall in and of itself would be the prime cause of an accident like this," he said.

Relatives were angry that the plane had been allowed to take off in bad weather [AFP]
Yates said that reports of fire could suggest "some cataclysmic failure of one of the engines" or that something had been sucked into the engine, such as a bird or debris.

Speaking to Al Jazeera from Hamburg, Germany, Tobias Rueckerl, an aviation consultant, said: "It is much too early to speculate about the cause, but it seems like the weather had a major impact on that crash.

"Ethiopian airlines is one of the much better African airlines."

"They have a comparably young fleet of aircraft, they have very well-trained people, they are following near European standards. So I would count them as a safe airline basically.

The passengers included 54 Lebanese nationals, 22 Ethiopians, as well as Iraqi, Syrian, British and French nationals, he said.

There were also several dual nationals including one British-Lebanese, one Canadian-Lebanese and a Russian-Lebanese.

Saad Hariri, the Lebanese prime minister, announced a day of mourning and closed schools and government offices.

Source:
Al Jazeera and agencies
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